Radio: Churchill’s Secret Cabinet
The one thing which Churchill’s Secret Cabinet doesn’t tell us – as it builds gradually up towards its examination of 43 previously-unheard recordings of Winston Churchill, found recently in an old record cabinet – is how the staff at the Churchill Archive managed to overlook these gems for nearly two decades. Perhaps the researcher charged with looking through the cabinet when the archive first received it 20 years ago was distracted by an offer of lunch as they sifted through the Gilbert & Sullivan.
Still, the tale of the records’ discovery makes for a nice story to kick off an engaging documentary. We’re all familiar with Churchill’s great set-piece speeches, but it’s wonderful to hear him at more informal events, such as a wartime lunch with an RAF squadron at Biggin Hill. There is a striking vitality to this recording as Churchill plays to his audience, raising laughter and heartfelt cheers. There is laughter too in a dry speech given at a dinner of tax inspectors in 1947: Churchill’s appreciation for the tax collectors’ contribution to the war effort will be particularly gratifying for members of the Association of Revenue Collectors union.
The programme’s main theme – the influence of music on Churchill’s oratory style – is interesting but, as presenter Andrew Roberts acknowledges, the new artefacts only hint at it. The documentary highlights Churchill’s use of pauses and crescendos, but doesn’t fully explore whether he was deliberately, or unconsciously, using musical techniques. In this sense, it leaves one a little unsatisfied, but is nevertheless worth a listen for the many unheard gems – including my particular favourite, a French language speech in which that familiar voice booms in a slightly stilted accent: “Francais! C’est moi: Churchill!”